Statement of Ngawang Sangdrol
Tibetan nun and former political prisoner
March 10, 2004
Hearing on Human Rights Practices Around the World: A Review of the State Department’s 2003 Annual Report
House Committee on International Relations
My name is Ngawang Sangdrol. I am 27 years old. From age 8, I was a nun in Garu Nunnery in Tibet.
From age 11, I began to speak out with my fellow nuns against the Chinese rule of our country. Most of my life, from age 15, I have only known what it means to live as a political prisoner inside the walls of Lhasa’s Drapchi prison. During my 11 years in prison and even during my interrogation I was subjected to torture and prolonged ill-treatment. I was released from prison on good behavior parole in October 2002 -- 9 years before my sentence was due to expire but only days before the Chinese President was to meet with President Bush at his ranch in Texas. Five months later, I was put on a plane to the United States for medical treatment. People who saw me board the plane said that I did not look back. Last week, almost exactly a year after I arrived at Reagan National Airport, I received news that my political asylum application has been approved.
I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to you and, through you, to the American people for all your efforts on behalf of the Tibetan people. Thank you. It is an unimaginable honor to be invited to speak to the United States Congress. This is also a very meaningful day for the Tibetan people as March 10, 1959 was the date the Tibetan people rose up against Chinese rule in our homeland. Since that time His Holiness the Dalai Lama has addressed the Tibetan people from exile annually on this date. This is the first year that I have been able to hear broadcast His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s March 10 address. I thank you for this gift.
I was first detained in 1990 for participating in a small demonstration at a cultural festival in front of the Norbu Lingka palace in Lhasa. At the time, I was a 12 year old nun. We prayed for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and called for freedom in Tibet. For this measure of free expression, I was detained for nine months in Gutsa detention center without charges. Upon my release I was forbidden from going back to my nunnery.
In 1992, I was again arrested for participating in a pro-independence demonstration in Lhasa, along with other Garu nuns, and some monks from Gaden monastery. I was sentenced to three years imprisonment “for incitement to subversive and separatist activities” at Drapchi prison.
I received a six-year sentence extension in 1993, for tape recording songs in praise of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and freedom in Tibet. We were 14 nuns who sang together. This tape was smuggled out of Drapchi to give courage to our fellow Tibetans. In fact, it was eventually distributed not just in Tibet but around the world.
In 1996, my prison term was extended for another eight years after I was accused of demonstrating inside prison. In 1998 my sentence was extended a third time, by another six years, after some of us were accused of being involved in a protest demonstrations. This brought my total sentence to 21 years.
Right from the first time I was detained, Chinese officials used different torture instruments on me to break my spirit. I was subjected to both physical and mental torture to make me denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the aspirations of my people. My fellow political prisoners and I were subjected to electric shocks from different types of electric batons and prods on sensitive body parts such as my mouth, underarms and palms of hands. We were beaten with pipes, canes and sticks of different sizes, thick leather belts with heavy metal buckles, and by the hands and feet of prison guards who were trained in martial arts. Other nuns and I were hung in the air with our arms tied behind our back for extended periods of time, and we were frequently made to stand in the direct sun or freezing cold for extended periods of time, and if we collapsed from the heat or exhaustion, we were beaten. We were made to race each other in competitions for the entertainment of the guards, during which they threw rocks at us and hit us if we ran too slow or got the words wrong to the Chinese songs we were forced to sing. I spent weeks in solitary confinement for refusing to accept the lies and punishments of my captors. This torture and mistreatment started while I was just a child of 13 and continued through most of my life in prison.
Even though they tried to deny us the ability to practice our religion, Drapchi Prison became our nunnery and the prison guards were our gurus. The Buddha taught that an enemy is the best teacher, because only when someone is cruel to you can you truly be tested on your practice of compassion toward all sentient beings. My fellow nuns and I would sing about our joy in having such an opportunity to develop compassion as we were being tortured and mistreated in prison. No matter our sufferings, our spirits were far from broken. We never lost faith in the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama or the strength of our religious commitment.
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